Capturing Data, Not Just Documents
January 26, 2015 Dan Burger
There is a pretty good chance that content management systems are not what you think they are. Preconceived notions and unwarranted conclusions are a dime a dozen. CMS, in the minds of most people, is about scanning and capturing reports. Or it is about going paperless and abandoning the old metal filing cabinets. But if that’s all you think it is, you are missing the big picture. Mobile and analytics technology have altered how data is captured and how it is used.
The shift that has occurred in content management is not insignificant. Mobile and analytics have converged at a time when data is being recognized as being more valuable than the document it is printed on. And access to business data via tablets and smartphones has put content management into another dimension.
Remote accessibility, reduced costs related to time and labor, and the capability to create real time analytics have altered the landscape to a degree that those with an idea of what content management was five years ago are off the mark today. This hasn’t eliminated the long-time benefits of scanning and report capture that remain important uses of CMS technology, but it’s changed the priorities for companies that have seen where CMS is going as well as where it’s been.
Observation and experiment within the confines of content management systems pretty well defines what Richard Schoen has been involved in for the past three decades. As an entrepreneur responsible for a start-up company in the IBM midrange, he’s learned from ideas that have been accepted, rejected, and modified based on the realities of the marketplace. His company, RJS Software, began in 1990 as an IBM AS/400 consulting business and three years later stepped into the document and workflow management arena. Six months ago that business was sold to HelpSystems. Schoen is the director of document management technologies there. He has authored white papers, articles in the trade publications, and other technical publications and is a frequent speaker at trade shows, seminars and other computer and technology industry events.
“I still consider Web-based forms technology to be in its infancy,” Schoen said in an interview with IT Jungle last week. “It is being fueled more now because of the growing use of tablets and smartphones and the fact that these devices have become less expensive. Being able to run offline on the devices has also been a big change. But it is inexpensive mobile devices that have made the biggest change, along with people wanting to capture data instead of just documents.”
During the past few years, the manufacturing base for tablets has broadened and budget-priced models, as low as $99, are available with nearly the same features and functionality of units priced five to eight times higher. Lower prices have put more tablets in the hands of business users and that directly relates to an increased emphasis on content management. The big winner is workforce efficiency. Examples of efficiencies and return on investment mostly focus on time savings that compare paper forms, filled out with a pen and later keyed into the electronic workflow, with filling out electronic forms and having the information in the system immediately.
“I like to say it eliminates paper before the process generates any of it,” Schoen says.
A bigger part of the transition in content management is the shift from projects based on scanning documents–creating digital forms that are exactly like the paper forms they are replacing–to the benefits of capturing data rather than capturing documents.
“A lot of companies have not thought outside the box on document management. They do what they have always done,” Schoen says.
“Data capture will continue to grow over the next 5 to 10 to 15 years,” Schoen predicts. “You’ll see more things driven off the data entry. Scanning has become a secondary checkbox for a lot of our new customers, while companies that are currently doing scanning are a little slower to change.”
While preconceived notions about content management can obliterate benefits, Schoen believes other factors also come into play. For instance, companies with a CMS that works with minimal features are sometimes prevented from seeing what works better. And companies that need help with an immediate pain point are more likely to become aware that data capture is an improvement over document capture.
Business awareness is another factor. It’s a skill that is often overestimated by the person who professes to possess it. The person or team that is constantly putting out fires is valuable, but fire prevention is closer to being priceless. Within the realm of content management, there is sometimes a tunnel vision effect that causes management to solve immediate problems without seeing the bigger picture.
A good example of this is the company with three separate document management systems deployed to three separate departments. This is a management defect that may or may not create a technology problem, but it does result in inefficiencies.
Schoen provides an example of business awareness. It begins with a company with field service technicians using paper to record metrics such as travel time, parts, and labor. It was recognized as being cumbersome and slow. It was also recognized that by switching to online forms the field service personnel could provide real time data that led to faster reporting and real time analysis that was also used to speed workflows, particularly the invoicing process.
Metrics that are not available under current circumstances are becoming a more important component to purchases of content management systems, Schoen says. Meanwhile, the awareness of interactive forms and what they contribute to analytics is increasing.
“We used to think of content management as an archive for data. Now it is living and breathing stuff. It is providing real time interaction and the data becomes actionable.”